PARLIAMENT–Under pressure from unimpressed MPs, visit Finance minister Matia Kasaija Tuesday morning committed to spend at least Sh12.2 billion next week on laying the ground for elections in the latest batch of newly-created districts.
Kasaija promised members of the House legal committee chaired by Jacob Oboth Oboth that he will find the money — needed by the Electoral Commission to organise polls for district chairpersons and woman MPs — through a supplementary budget.
His pledge lifted the dark mood which has hovered over any finance ministry official’s appearance in the Oboth committee in recent days.
Many committee members had made their dissatisfaction at the government’s failure to get Namisindwa, what is ed Pakwach, Butebo, Rukiga, Kyotera and Bunyangabo districts off the ground by July 1 as had been agreed to.
Only last week, a senior ministry official was forced to prematurely end a presentation to the committee over this failure.
Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi was stopped in his tracks after he admonished both Parliament and cabinet for not listening to technical advice against the creation of districts.
Pointing out how unsustainable these new administrative units are, Muhakanizi declared that there were no funds to hold the elections.
And so, the minister promised to go back and consult with his technical team and report to the committee today. He waddled into the committee room at least an hour and a half late with what he enthusiastically announced was “good news” for members.
Electoral Commission chairman Simon Byabakama and commissioner Steven Tashobya on his side, Kasaija offered verbal assurances to the MPs that the money will be on the electoral body’s accounts next week.
“They can now go ahead to make the necessary preparations taking into account that these funds are coming,” the minister confidently announced.
The electoral commission bosses made it very clear that they must have the money in hand so as to beat the 60-day constitutional deadline within which new districts are meant to have elected leadership.
“We are already 30 days late so it would be very helpful if the payment of this money can be expedited.” Tashobya implored.
Opposition chief whip Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, however, was not about to let the minister off the hook so easily. He accused the minister of taking a casual approach to matters before the committee.
While admonishing Kasaija for appearing late, he cast serious doubts about the minister’s sincerity. He recalled how Kasaija promised to release funds for local council elections that have never been held.
Kasaija quickly retorted that the money for the LC elections has now been remitted to the EC.
Semujju then reminded him about a date which had been set by government for early this year to hold those elections, only for the finance minister to come back and tell Parliament that he spent the money to buy food for starving communities.
“Would I have gone to fund elections when people are dying of hunger?” Kasaija defensively responded.
A heated exchange ensued between the two. Byabakama put the matter to rest by confirming that they have finally received money for local council elections
“We are going to inform the country [next week of] the roadmap; the programme and then people start getting prepared,” he said.